In his highly entertaining memoir “No Experience Necessary”, Norman Van Aiken recalls the early years after he quit college and before he became a nationally known chef. This was back in 1972 when he was twenty-one years old. He writes about how he knocked around the country and was , at various times, “a house painter in Florida, a concrete sprayer in Kansas, a stoned , shoeless flower seller in Honolulu, a carnival worker in the Midwest, a sod layer, a blues band struggler, a roofer, a small time actor and most often an unemployed dreamer.” He hitchhiked to California, then to Florida, to New York, and then turned around and did it again. Sometimes, he would hitch going west and then, just for the heck of it , cross the road and head east.
I know there are still some youngsters nowadays with such a sense of adventure but it strikes me that there are fewer and fewer of them. The times are very different. The greatest change is that life today is more difficult and there is no longer the same sense of optimism about the future. In the sixties and even the early seventies, there was the gut feeling that good times were ahead, that settling down to a steady job could wait while you sowed your wild oats. Nowadays, with even a college degree no guarantee of a job, any job, kids are much more serious about getting started on their careers.
There are other factors that have resulted in our fading sense of adventure. One of them is television, another computers and video games. It seems to me that fifty years ago, life in the small towns of Middle America was indescribably boring for the young. It was charming on the surface, yes, but it was also predictable, circumscribed and stultifying and they couldn’t wait to get away. Today, television and the internet mean that one is not so isolated and there is no longer that feeling of being hemmed in. Television programs bring the world to your living room and the various social networks make you a part of a large virtual community. Video games also occupy a considerable part of young people’s time and take them out of themselves and their surroundings. Add to these things the fact that the world is a much more dangerous place than it used to be ( hitchhiking today is a foolhardy proposition) and it is no wonder that youngsters of today stick closer to home.